Everything you need to know about ORDINANCE 4035 in 5 minutes

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Boca Raton’s elected and appointed officials are scrambling to explain how so many of the existing and planned buildings in Downtown Boca appear to run afoul of our City’s basic development ordinance.

Perhaps it’s a scandal. We shall see. But giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, it might well be because almost nobody has paid much attention to the 65-page law. After all, it was passed over 20 years ago. So for those who haven’t the time or the inclination, here’s everything you need to know to monitor the upcoming Boca downtown development debate:

Ordinance 4035 is the law.

First, Ordinance 4035 is not guidance. It is the law. It is proscriptive, not suggestive.  Throughout its 65 pages, the words “shall” and “must” appear over and over. The word “guidance” never appears, although the word “guide” is used in the one section relating to architectural design, where the authors attempted to give developers some leeway to modify Mizner’s original designs. But the intent of that section is crystal clear: that all development in Downtown Boca should be harmonious with what is already there. Mizner Park is new, but it does not look out of place. Nor does it change the architectural look and feel of the Downtown.

Ordinance 4035 is written in plain English and it's easy to understand.

Second, Ordinance 4035 is not complex. It is lengthy, not because it is complicated, but because it is incredibly detailed. There are six pages of clear definitions, including ground-to-sky open space. Five pages of development review procedures. Six pages on parking.  Almost nine pages of landscaping do’s and don’ts, including the size and kind of trees you can and cannot plant. Four pages on architectural design, some suggestive, but others quite specific, such as “no more than 40% of the perimeter of a building’s materials shall be composed of glass.” And there are six pages of specific road improvements that must be completed before Downtown development is allowed to proceed. All of these pages are written in plain, unambiguous English. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. A fifth grader could understand the language in Ordinance 4035.

Why do you think the authors of this document in 1992 went to such lengths to include such detail? Probably because they did not feel that developers would get it right if left to their own devices. They understood that profit is a powerful motivator. The temptation to cram every possible square foot of marketable space on each Downtown lot would prove irresistible. And they were right. Ordinance 4035 is not a trusting document. Its authors did their best to protect Boca’s future. If they fell short, it was not for lack of trying.

Ordinance 4035 is a visionary document.

Finally, Ordinance 4035 is also a visionary document. Just look at the section on energy and infrastructure. The authors understood that more development in the Downtown—more people, more cars—was going to stress the few roads that service the area. Therefore, they required as many road improvements as they could imagine PRIOR to letting development proceed. Think about that. They improved the roads before they allowed the buildings. By comparison, the Interim Development Guidelines approved the buildings but said nothing about the roads or traffic. The mantra of the IDG was “Build it and they will come.”  But the corollary might have been “Build it and they will have no way to move around.” 

Boca last took a comprehensive look at its traffic needs in 1992. They should undertake a comprehensive traffic study now, before they allow Downtown Boca to get any bigger. That is one of the most important lessons one can learn from reading Ordinance 4035. 

The unpleasant truth about traffic in Boca Raton

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Boca Raton, Via Mizner, the first of three mammoth new buildings in downtown Boca.November 15, 2015.


Boca Raton, Via Mizner, the first of three mammoth new buildings in downtown Boca.November 15, 2015.

In a recent article, the Sun Sentinel explored the pros and cons of Boca’s “new look.”  Numerous members of the City Council were interviewed, as were various development advocates, but although the headline touted “citizen concerns,” not one ordinary citizen or citizens’ group such as Boca Watch or BocaBeautiful.org was quoted. Nor was there a single word about traffic. Not one word.

A $50,000 “traffic study” by Boca’s City Council has focused on the problems with one intersection, at Fifth and Palmetto, site of the enormously popular Trattoria Romana and the enormously controversial Wildflower development. We learned that in preparation for its conclusions, the well-paid consultants counted cars in the month of September, which is like recording snowfall in July. A similar study of the gridlocked intersection at 5th Avenue and Federal Highway was conducted when the main destination there (Florida’s largest Publix) was closed for renovation. Even if they come up with a brilliant solution for Fifth and Palmetto, that will fix only a tiny piece of the problem.

 

The root of Boca’s coming traffic congestion crisis is this: too many residential and commercial units are being crammed into the one square mile “downtown” where there are only five main roads. 

The new plans for Royal Palm Place alone call for a 3000 car garage. If all the apartments, offices, retail establishments and hotels are completed, we estimate that there will be an additional ten thousand cars in and around the downtown area by 2018. And that’s just the people who live and work and want to park there.

The developers and their allies tell us that the infrastructure studies done over 20 years ago anticipated all of this, and that we have nothing to worry about. If you are experiencing slower commutes on Glades, Dixie, Federal, Palmetto or Camino, it is not because of the new residents of the downtown (they haven’t arrived yet), but because of the increased traffic caused by people passing through Boca. That’s people travelling from Delray to Pompano or Deerfield and back. Their solution? Maybe we need to build a bypass around Boca’s downtown! The Boca Beltway! 

You’ll also hear lots of talk about how we don’t need to worry about cars because we are building a “pedestrian friendly” downtown. The assumption that people are joyously going to walk everywhere ignores both Boca’s demographics and the laws of human behavior. If everyone’s going to be on foot, why are the developers building all all those parking spaces? To be used as auto storage units? Are people going to travel to and from the grocery store on trolleys or segways? And what about the people who come from out of the area to service all of our new downtown residents? Or the visitors who come and stay in all the new hotels? Perhaps downtown Boca will become the aerobic capital of the world.

There’s a much simpler solution to Boca’s coming traffic mess: 

Let’s pause new construction in the downtown—especially the massive Via Mizner Phases II and III—until we have done an area-wide traffic study, counting traffic in peak periods like February, and come up with a comprehensive plan to cope with the cars of the additional residents, commuters and tourists who will flock to Boca’s new urban mecca. Let’s put the horse before the cart for a change, or more specifically, lets make sure we have the roads before the cars arrive.

That’s what the Boca development debate should be all about. Not the paint job on the Mark or the number of Mizner turrets a developer can put on a concrete pile.

John C. Gore
President
BocaBeautiful.org

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Make your voice heard!

Tell the Mayor and other City Council members what you think about changes in Boca. 

Click here to see the dates and agendas of upcoming City Meetings 

Proposed Projects  |  Scheduled for Planning Advisory Review (first step—where you can have a big impact) 

  • Royal Palm Place Master Plan Revisions
    194 Southeast 1st Avenue
    Proposal to reapprove the previous Individual Development Approval Master Site Plan and utilize the Downtown’s Interim Design Guidelines to change the design of the F-1 building by increasing the height of the building from 100 FT and 9 stories to 140 FT and 13 stories and from 149 residential units to 200 units, and increase the square footage of the restaurant from 4,500 SF to 5,500 SF.
  • Royal Palm Assisted Living Facility
    375 East Royal Palm Road
    Proposal to construct a 214,416 SF, 9-story, 203-bed assisted living (memory-care) facility on a 1.02-acre site. 

Proposed Projects—Recommended by Planning and Zoning; Pending City Council Public Hearing 

  • Hyatt Place Hotel
    120 East Palmetto Park Road
    IDA Amendment
    An Amendment to Individual Development Approval (IDA) CRP-08-03R3 allowing the modification of Condition No. 52, related to the timing of the installation of underground utilities for the Hyatt Place Hotel Boca Raton.
  • Chabad of East Boca
    770 East Palmetto Park Road
    Conditional Use
    Conditional use approval to construct a 2-story, 18,364 SF place of worship with 222 seats along with other accessory uses and a 26,265 SF parking garage structure with technical deviations on a 0.84-acre site. 
  • Chabad of East Boca
    770 East Palmetto Park Road
    Site Plan Approval
    Site plan approval to construct a 2-story, 18,364 SF place of worship with 222 seats along with other accessory uses and a 26,265 SF parking garage structure with technical deviations on a 0.84-acre site . 

Proposed Projects In Process (IP), but Public Hearing (PH) Not Yet Scheduled

  • Via Mizner Phases 2 & 3
    700-998 South Federal Highway
    IDA Amendment
    Amendment to an existing Individual Development Approval (CRP-06-01R3) to revise Phase 2 from a 118- room hotel to a 175-room hotel with 25,030 SF retail and Phase 3 from 84 condominiums to 100 condominiums with 22,505 SF of retail on a 6.79 acre- site
  • 327 Royal Palm Road Condominium
    327 Royal Palm Road
    IDA Site Plan
    IDA site plan to allow construction of a 9-story, 25-unit, 81,352 SF multi-family condo building with an automated parking system and a technical deviation related to driveway design on a 0.51-acre site.
  • Hyatt Place Hotel
    120 East Palmetto Park Road
    IDA Amendment
    IDA amendment to delete Condition No. 24 of CRP-08- 03R2 to allow the project to include a gate.
  • Houston’s Restaurant
    551 East Palmetto Park Road
    Special Case
    A Comprehensive Plan Land Use Map Amendment changing the future land use designation from Residential Low (RL) to Commercial (C) ) for the northern portion (approximately 1.1337 acres) of the property located at 551 East Palmetto Park Road (formerly known as the Wildflower property).
  • Houston’s Restaurant
    551 East Palmetto Park Road
    Zoning Change
    A rezoning from Single- Family Residential District (R-1-B) to Local Business District (B-1) for the northern portion (approximately 1.1337 acres) of the property located at 551 East Palmetto Park Road (formerly known as the Wildflower property.

Contact Information for City Staff

Repeal the Interim Design Guidelines – Scrap the Pattern Book

Repeal the Interim Design Guidelines – Scrap the Pattern Book

Boca’s Interim Design Guidelines Should Be Repealed and their Sibling – The Pattern Book – Should be Scrapped  

Developers have been exploiting Boca’s Interim Design Guidelines (IDG) to achieve higher density development and clog Boca’s downtown. The IDG allows downtown buildings to rise 60% higher than the traditional Development Ordinance (to 160 feet rather than 100 feet). Further, developers have exploited the complexity of the IDG and loopholes in its Guidelines to increase density (square feet of development per square foot of land) as well as height. Now the City is considering adopting the Pattern Book which would extend the 60% increase in height to the entire Downtown!

In contrast to Boca’s standard Development Ordinance (Ordinance 4035), the IDG and the Pattern Book require complicated quantitative and qualitative assessments of any development plans. According to City Staff, these assessments are so technical that they are subcontracted to a private firm, Urban Design Associates (UDA), the firm that worked with the City to develop the IDG and its sibling, the Pattern Book. 

The City is presently considering adopting the Pattern Book in the near future. UDA, the private firm that developed both the IDG and the Pattern Book has no offices near Boca Raton; however, it decides whether or not a development project is in agreement with their guidelines and recommends approval or disapproval. Not having the capability to perform the necessary assessments themselves, our City staff’s role has been reduced to rubber stamping UDA’s approval recommendations.  If UDA’s Pattern Book were adopted by the City Council, the current arrangement with this private firm under the IDG would become permanent, as only they would be capable of assessing development projects and determining whether or not they are in compliance with the complex development regulation they have developed.  This is not a healthy situation for our City, but is a very advantageous one for UDA’s bottom line.

 Look around at what is coming out of the ground in “downtown” Boca.  Do you think that Urban Design Associates is doing a good job designing our downtown?  Should a private firm have such major influence on our City’s development?

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